Thursday 10/3

Republic, Book VII

Readings

Texts

Fourth Essay Question (Due Thursday 10/10)

In light of our discussion today, I've decided to pursue a different essay question than the one I assigned on Tuesday. This is derived from the third discussion question from today. Be sure to read this version of it carefully.

Plato briefly describes and justifies the method of dialectic thusly:

Then isn’t this at last, Glaucon, the song that dialectic sings? It is intelligible, [532] but it is imitated by the power of sight. We said that sight tries at last to look at the animals themselves, the stars themselves, and, in the end, at the sun itself. In the same way, whenever someone tries through argument and apart from all sense perceptions to find the being itself of each thing and doesn’t give up until he grasps the good itself with [b] understanding itself, he reaches the end of the intelligible, just as the other reached the end of the visible.

Absolutely.

And what about this journey? Don’t you call it dialectic?

I do.

Then the release from bonds and the turning around from shadows to statues and the light of the fire and, then, the way up out of the cave to the sunlight and, there, the continuing inability to look at the animals, the plants, and the light of the sun, but the newly acquired ability to look at [c] divine images in water and shadows of the things that are, rather than, as before, merely at shadows of statues thrown by another source of light that is itself a shadow in relation to the sun—all this business of the crafts we’ve mentioned has the power to awaken the best part of the soul and lead it upward to the study of the best among the things that are, just as, before, the clearest thing in the body was led to the brightest thing in the [d] bodily and visible realm.

I accept that this is so, even though it seems very hard to accept in one way and hard not to accept in another. All the same, since we’ll have to return to these things often in the future, rather than having to hear them just once now, let’s assume that what you’ve said is so and turn to the song itself, discussing it in the same way as we did the prelude. So tell us: what is the sort of power dialectic has, what forms is it divided into, and what paths does it follow? For these lead at last, it seems, towards [e] that place which is a rest from the road, so to speak, and an end of journeying for the one who reaches it.

[533] You won’t be able to follow me any longer, Glaucon, even though there is no lack of eagerness on my part to lead you, for you would no longer be seeing an image of what we’re describing, but the truth itself. At any rate, that’s how it seems to me. That it is really so is not worth insisting on any further. But that there is some such thing to be seen, that is something we must insist on. Isn’t that so?

Of course.

And mustn’t we also insist that the power of dialectic could reveal it only to someone experienced in the subjects we’ve described and that it cannot reveal it in any other way?

That too is worth insisting on.

[b] At any rate, no one will dispute it when we say that there is no other inquiry that systematically attempts to grasp with respect to each thing itself what the being of it is, for all the other crafts are concerned with human opinions and desires, with growing or construction, or with the care of growing or constructed things. And as for the rest, I mean geometry and the subjects that follow it, we described them as to some extent grasping what is, for we saw that, while they do dream about what is, they are unable to command a waking view of it as long as they make use of hypotheses that they leave untouched and that they cannot give any account [c] of. What mechanism could possibly turn any agreement into knowledge when it begins with something unknown and puts together the conclusion and the steps in between from what is unknown?

None.

Therefore, dialectic is the only inquiry that travels this road, doing away with hypotheses and proceeding to the first principle itself, so as to be [d] secure. And when the eye of the soul is really buried in a sort of barbaric bog, dialectic gently pulls it out and leads it upwards, using the crafts we described to help it and cooperate with it in turning the soul around. From force of habit, we’ve often called these crafts sciences or kinds of knowledge, but they need another name, clearer than opinion, darker than knowledge. We called them thought somewhere before.5 But I presume that we won’t dispute about a name when we have so many more important matters to investigate. [e]

Of course not.

It will therefore be enough to call the first section knowledge, the second thought, the third belief, and the fourth imaging, just as we did before. The last two together we call opinion, the other two, intellect. Opinion is [534] concerned with becoming, intellect with being. And as being is to becoming, so intellect is to opinion, and as intellect is to opinion, so knowledge is to belief and thought to imaging. But as for the ratios between the things these are set over and the division of either the opinable or the intelligible section into two, let’s pass them by, Glaucon, lest they involve us in arguments many times longer than the ones we’ve already gone through.

I agree with you about the others in any case, insofar as I’m able to follow. [b]

Then, do you call someone who is able to give an account of the being of each thing dialectical? But insofar as he’s unable to give an account of something, either to himself or to another, do you deny that he has any understanding of it?

How could I do anything else?

Then the same applies to the good. Unless someone can distinguish in an account the form of the good from everything else, can survive all refutation, as if in a battle, striving to judge things not in accordance with [c] opinion but in accordance with being, and can come through all this with his account still intact, you’ll say that he doesn’t know the good itself or any other good. And if he gets hold of some image of it, you’ll say that it’s through opinion, not knowledge, for he is dreaming and asleep throughout his present life, and, before he wakes up here, he will arrive in Hades and go to sleep forever. [d]

So we learn that apprehension of the forms is facilitated by (and perhaps only by) the dialectic method. In light of the distinction between opinion and knowledge, and contrasting it with such methods of inquiry as deduction and induction, what is the method of dialectic, and how does it permit us on Plato's view to achieve knowledge? That is, given what little Socrates asserts here, can you develop a theory of dialectic as distinct from deduction (logic) and induction (statistics), making sure to ground your discussion in specific examples of each? In particular, be sure to inform your answer by a well-chosen example of the method of dialectic as it is applied in the Republic (thus, quotes are permitted, but only when they are carefully explained in developing your answer.) In the end, is Plato correct in holding that dialectic is the best and only method to achieve genuine understanding (nous) and, thus, knowledge? Two pages is too short for this. Let us expand the limit a bit to four pages.

Discussion Questions

First Question on Book VII: The Allegory of the Cave

Book VII famously opens with the Allegory of the Cave, which at once summarizes the discussion of the philosophical nature and its relation to the forms developed in Book VI, and helps to explain the popular view condemning that nature. What is the allegory, precisely?

Second Question on Book VII: The Unhappy Philosopher

The city studiously described in Plato's Republic contains an odd tension: Everyone is presumably happy fulfilling the roles in society their natures and educations dictate--everyone, that is, except the philosopher king or queen. In Book VII of Republic Socrates at long last crafts the following response to the criticism that at the heart of this model of justice necessarily lies a grave injustice:

And what about the uneducated who have no experience of truth? Isn’t it likely—indeed, doesn’t it follow necessarily from what was said before—that they will never adequately govern a city? But neither would those who’ve been allowed to spend their whole lives being educated. The former [c] would fail because they don’t have a single goal at which all their actions, public and private, inevitably aim; the latter would fail because they’d refuse to act, thinking that they had settled while still alive in the faraway Isles of the Blessed.

That’s true.

It is our task as founders, then, to compel the best natures to reach the study we said before is the most important, namely, to make the ascent and see the good. But when they’ve made it and looked sufficiently, we [d] mustn’t allow them to do what they’re allowed to do today.

What’s that?

To stay there and refuse to go down again to the prisoners in the cave and share their labors and honors, whether they are of less worth or of greater.

Then are we to do them an injustice by making them live a worse life when they could live a better one?

You are forgetting again that it isn’t the law’s concern to make any one [e] class in the city outstandingly happy but to contrive to spread happiness throughout the city by bringing the citizens into harmony with each other through persuasion or compulsion and by making them share with each other the benefits that each class can confer on the community.4 The law produces such people in the city, not in order to allow them to turn [520] in whatever direction they want, but to make use of them to bind the city together.

That’s true, I had forgotten.

Observe, then, Glaucon, that we won’t be doing an injustice to those who’ve become philosophers in our city and that what we’ll say to them, when we compel them to guard and care for the others, will be just. We’ll say: “When people like you come to be in other cities, they’re justified in not sharing in their city’s labors, for they’ve grown there spontaneously, [b] against the will of the constitution. And what grows of its own accord and owes no debt for its upbringing has justice on its side when it isn’t keen to pay anyone for that upbringing. But we’ve made you kings in our city and leaders of the swarm, as it were, both for yourselves and for the rest of the city. You’re better and more completely educated than the others and are better able to share in both types of life. Therefore each of you in [c] turn must go down to live in the common dwelling place of the others and grow accustomed to seeing in the dark. When you are used to it, you’ll see vastly better than the people there. And because you’ve seen the truth about fine, just, and good things, you’ll know each image for what it is and also that of which it is the image. Thus, for you and for us, the city will be governed, not like the majority of cities nowadays, by people who fight over shadows and struggle against one another in order to rule—as if that were a great good—but by people who are awake rather than dreaming, for the truth is surely this: A city whose prospective rulers [d] are least eager to rule must of necessity be most free from civil war, whereas a city with the opposite kind of rulers is governed in the opposite way.”

Absolutely.

Then do you think that those we’ve nurtured will disobey us and refuse to share the labors of the city, each in turn, while living the greater part of their time with one another in the pure realm?

It isn’t possible, for we’ll be giving just orders to just people. Each of [e] them will certainly go to rule as to something compulsory, however, which is exactly the opposite of what’s done by those who now rule in each city.

This is how it is. If you can find a way of life that’s better than ruling for the prospective rulers, your well-governed city will become a possibility, [521] for only in it will the truly rich rule—not those who are rich in gold but those who are rich in the wealth that the happy must have, namely, a good and rational life. But if beggars hungry for private goods go into public life, thinking that the good is there for the seizing, then the well-governed city is impossible, for then ruling is something fought over, and this civil and domestic war destroys these people and the rest of the city as well.

That’s very true.

[b] Can you name any life that despises political rule besides that of the true philosopher?

No, by god, I can’t.

But surely it is those who are not lovers of ruling who must rule, for if they don’t, the lovers of it, who are rivals, will fight over it.

Of course.

Then who will you compel to become guardians of the city, if not those who have the best understanding of what matters for good government and who have other honors than political ones, and a better life as well?

No one.

What is Socrates' response, exactly? Is it satisfactory? Why or why not? Further, what is Socrates' argument that those who least desire rule should rule, while those who most desire rule should not? Set out this argument as best you can, analyzing its assumptions so as to ascertain whether we should find it convincing.

Third Question on Book VII: The Socratic Elenchus

Plato briefly describes and justifies the method of dialectic thusly:

Then isn’t this at last, Glaucon, the song that dialectic sings? It is intelligible, [532] but it is imitated by the power of sight. We said that sight tries at last to look at the animals themselves, the stars themselves, and, in the end, at the sun itself. In the same way, whenever someone tries through argument and apart from all sense perceptions to find the being itself of each thing and doesn’t give up until he grasps the good itself with [b] understanding itself, he reaches the end of the intelligible, just as the other reached the end of the visible.

Absolutely.

And what about this journey? Don’t you call it dialectic?

I do.

Then the release from bonds and the turning around from shadows to statues and the light of the fire and, then, the way up out of the cave to the sunlight and, there, the continuing inability to look at the animals, the plants, and the light of the sun, but the newly acquired ability to look at [c] divine images in water and shadows of the things that are, rather than, as before, merely at shadows of statues thrown by another source of light that is itself a shadow in relation to the sun—all this business of the crafts we’ve mentioned has the power to awaken the best part of the soul and lead it upward to the study of the best among the things that are, just as, before, the clearest thing in the body was led to the brightest thing in the [d] bodily and visible realm.

I accept that this is so, even though it seems very hard to accept in one way and hard not to accept in another. All the same, since we’ll have to return to these things often in the future, rather than having to hear them just once now, let’s assume that what you’ve said is so and turn to the song itself, discussing it in the same way as we did the prelude. So tell us: what is the sort of power dialectic has, what forms is it divided into, and what paths does it follow? For these lead at last, it seems, towards [e] that place which is a rest from the road, so to speak, and an end of journeying for the one who reaches it.

[533] You won’t be able to follow me any longer, Glaucon, even though there is no lack of eagerness on my part to lead you, for you would no longer be seeing an image of what we’re describing, but the truth itself. At any rate, that’s how it seems to me. That it is really so is not worth insisting on any further. But that there is some such thing to be seen, that is something we must insist on. Isn’t that so?

Of course.

And mustn’t we also insist that the power of dialectic could reveal it only to someone experienced in the subjects we’ve described and that it cannot reveal it in any other way?

That too is worth insisting on.

[b] At any rate, no one will dispute it when we say that there is no other inquiry that systematically attempts to grasp with respect to each thing itself what the being of it is, for all the other crafts are concerned with human opinions and desires, with growing or construction, or with the care of growing or constructed things. And as for the rest, I mean geometry and the subjects that follow it, we described them as to some extent grasping what is, for we saw that, while they do dream about what is, they are unable to command a waking view of it as long as they make use of hypotheses that they leave untouched and that they cannot give any account [c] of. What mechanism could possibly turn any agreement into knowledge when it begins with something unknown and puts together the conclusion and the steps in between from what is unknown?

None.

Therefore, dialectic is the only inquiry that travels this road, doing away with hypotheses and proceeding to the first principle itself, so as to be [d] secure. And when the eye of the soul is really buried in a sort of barbaric bog, dialectic gently pulls it out and leads it upwards, using the crafts we described to help it and cooperate with it in turning the soul around. From force of habit, we’ve often called these crafts sciences or kinds of knowledge, but they need another name, clearer than opinion, darker than knowledge. We called them thought somewhere before.5 But I presume that we won’t dispute about a name when we have so many more important matters to investigate. [e]

Of course not.

It will therefore be enough to call the first section knowledge, the second thought, the third belief, and the fourth imaging, just as we did before. The last two together we call opinion, the other two, intellect. Opinion is [534] concerned with becoming, intellect with being. And as being is to becoming, so intellect is to opinion, and as intellect is to opinion, so knowledge is to belief and thought to imaging. But as for the ratios between the things these are set over and the division of either the opinable or the intelligible section into two, let’s pass them by, Glaucon, lest they involve us in arguments many times longer than the ones we’ve already gone through.

I agree with you about the others in any case, insofar as I’m able to follow. [b]

Then, do you call someone who is able to give an account of the being of each thing dialectical? But insofar as he’s unable to give an account of something, either to himself or to another, do you deny that he has any understanding of it?

How could I do anything else?

Then the same applies to the good. Unless someone can distinguish in an account the form of the good from everything else, can survive all refutation, as if in a battle, striving to judge things not in accordance with [c] opinion but in accordance with being, and can come through all this with his account still intact, you’ll say that he doesn’t know the good itself or any other good. And if he gets hold of some image of it, you’ll say that it’s through opinion, not knowledge, for he is dreaming and asleep throughout his present life, and, before he wakes up here, he will arrive in Hades and go to sleep forever. [d]

In light of the distinction between opinion and knowledge, and contrasting it with such methods of inquiry as deduction and induction, what is the method of dialectic, and how does it permit us on Plato's view to achieve knowledge? That is, given what little Socrates asserts here, can you develop a theory of dialectic as distinct from deduction (logic) and induction (statistics). In the end, is Plato correct in holding that dialectic is the best and only method to achieve genuine understanding (nous) and, thus, knowledge?